History

Ancient Times

There is documentation to prove that scabies has afflicted humans for thousands of years. Acarus is of Greek derivation, suggesting that the Greeks knew of the itch mite. In his written works, Aristotle (384-323 BC) mentioned "lice in the flesh" that produced vesicles. (Orkin 1)

Aristotle

Middle Ages

St. Hildegard (1099-1179) is credited with the official discovery of scabies. She discussed scabies in her treatise, Physika,naming the itch mite "snebelza". Unfortunately she was not taken seriously because Galen's humors dominated the medical dogma of her time; bad humors were believed to escape the body through the skin, hence causing the severe itch characteristic of scabies. (Orkin 2)

St. Hildegard

17th and 18th Centuries

Giovanni Cosimo Bonomo described and drew the scabies mite in 1687. Bonomo extracted skin from several 'Itchy' people and then observed the skin samples under a microscope to find, "a minute living creature...with six feet and a sharp head". Nevertheless, physicians did not accept that a microscopic organism could cause such severe pruritis. Shortly thereafter, Linnaeus included the acarus in his taxonomical classifications. (Orkin 3)

 

Bonomo's rendition of the scabies mite

Early 19th Century

In an effort to prove a causal relationship, Joseph Adams infected himself with the scabies mite in 1805. Two weeks after infecting himself with the parasite, Adams erupted in lesions and began feeling itchy. Concurrently in France, Jean Louis Alibert and his student, Jean Chrysanthe Gale, demonstrated that the mite could be recovered from a scabietic patient. Ironically, there was still doubt amoung members of the scientific community as to whether the mite caused scabies until, Thomas Hiller concluded in 1865, "In the present ay nearly all writers on skin diseases admit that the essential element in this affection, from which, more or less directly, all the symptoms arise, is the existence of a small creature, the acarus scabiei, or sarcoptes hominis, which burrows between the layers of the epidermis, and there propagates itself, causing a great deal of itching". (Orkin 4-5)

 

Scabies Mite